Journalism? Are you crazy?

What do you mean watchdog? I'm obviously a parrot! (Many thanks to my dog for modeling)

I recently began my job as a teaching assistant, and I’ve already had to clarify that I’m not a madwoman.

I’ll explain momentarily, but here’s some background: I’m assisting in the UBC School of Journalism’s only undergraduate course. The subject is New Media, and the class has proven to be a magnet for students who want to figure out if this field is right for them.

One such student interjected during the most recent lecture. We were looking at the Newspaper Death Watch website quite generally, but a specific poll caught the student’s eye.

“How would you answer that question?” she said to the instructor, Candis Callison.

The question: What would you tell a college student considering a journalism career?

The options:

  1. What, are you nuts?
  2. It’s a noble profession, but be prepared for a life of poverty
  3. You can make a decent living, kid, but you’d better specialize
  4. Go for it! This is a great time to get in on the ground floor.

Candis smiled and turned to me. (I am, after all, a student who decided to get into journalism despite the terror in my grandmother’s eyes.)

“What do you think, Fabiola?”

Well, I denied being “nuts” (though I did joke about embracing my status as a child of chaos) and wrote a follow-up forum post for the class. I started by saying that there is no short answer. Instead there’s a fascinating and ongoing debate. In fact, smart and experienced people hold a wide spectrum of views.

Although this is clearly dodging the question, I’m glad a student raised it so early in the semester. We’re going to revisit it often and, as we navigate the variables, I’d wager that opinions will change several times throughout the course.

In the meantime, I mentioned one point I’ve found interesting: CBC journalist Ira Basen believes that the “crisis in journalism” is not just economic but also existential. In fact, his two-part podcast on “News 2.0.” is a great entry point into the debate.

Part One

Part Two

I encouraged them (and you!) to take a break from the books and check it out. It’s a great overview of a complex landscape.

Some friends on twitter also weighed in:

It’s too early to give away my thoughts on the matter, but clearly I was not deterred – even after attending many harrowing lectures and conferences, and reading tons of doomsday material.

Jesse Brown, for instance, started a speech for a room full of student journalists called “The Future of News.” He laughed at us as we leaned forward in our chairs and then told us the real title of his presentation, captured in the following photo:

Jesse Brown dashes dreams, but makes it damn funny.

(Spoiler alert!) Fabiola Carletti went to J-school anyway and, nearing graduation, still really wants to do this thing. She also thinks a lot of the journalists she admires are, well, just a little crazy — and she’s okay with that.

Note: Fabiola also lapses into the third person, from time to time.


Classifying the critters of UBC

Andrew investigates a slimy specimen

An invitation for Fab File readers in the Vancouver area

Who: Andrew MacDonald, Department of Zoology, green college resident
What: A lesson in love and appreciation of biodiversity
When: November 1st 8:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Where: Green College coach house, UBC

We live each day surrounded by birds, insects, plants and invertebrates: but how well do we really know them? In this talk Andrew MacDonald will share what he knows about the identification and natural history of the (non-human!) organisms in and around Green College, UBC.

The talk will involve photos, recordings and specimens of organisms in and around our campus.

(Insider knowledge: Andrew is one of the college’s most enthusiastic story-tellers. He has inspired a sense of wonder in many of our residents, and we’re excited to spread–for instance–some of his beetle-mania!)

Please join us. And stay for dinner if you can!

Do you know where your e-waste goes?

Image from PBS FRONTLINE/World

Hey readers! Do you live in the Vancouver area? If so, I’d like to invite you to attend the following event that I’ve organized for Green College, the UBC residence at which I currently reside. The guest speaker is a friend and former resident who recently graduated from my J-school program at UBC.

If you can’t make it, you can watch the documentary on this blog. I’ve embedded it into an earlier post. Either way, please check it out! It’s 20 minutes extremely well spent.

Event Details:

Jodie Martinson holds her new Emmy. Photo courtesy JM.

Who: Jodie Martinson, former Green College resident and documentary filmmaker
What: Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground — screening, followed by Q&A
When: Nov. 7th, 2010 at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Green College coach house


Jodie Martinson, a recent graduate from the UBC School of Journalism, has already earned an Emmy for her documentary film work.

She is among the first group of Canadian students to ever win the prestigious award, having beat out established heavyweights like 60 minutes, 48 Hours and Nightline. Under the leadership of Peter Klein, UBC associate professor and former 60 minutes producer, a ten-student troupe crafted an investigative news documentary called “Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground which aired on the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE/World in 2009.

The documentary follows the trail of discarded computers, or e-waste, to three communities in Ghana, China and India. Along the way, the investigative team uncovers serious threats to the environment, public health, human rights and information security.

On November 7th at 5:00 p.m., Martinson will return to Green College, her former home, and talk about the making of the film as well as the issues that inspired it. Please join us for a screening followed by a Q&A, and stay for dinner if you can!

Spinning Climate Change

How does evidence of climate change come to matter for different social groups?

I’ve posted this video as a follow-up to an earlier post.
It’s the end result of filming and editing a lecture delivered by my thesis supervisor.

Video synopsis

UBC  journalism professor Candis Callison delivers her lecture “Spinning climate change, vernaculars and emergent forms of life.”
The original event took place on Oct. 7th, 2010 at the Green College coach house on UBC campus.

In her talk, Prof. Callison complicates the notion that scientific information will straightforwardly inspire action to counter environmental problems. Her research provides insight into how Americans within five distinct social and professional groups are translating, transforming, and re-articulating climate change for a diverse citizenry and wider publics.

“More information is not the point. You’ve got to find ways to link [climate change] to what people already care about.”

Speaker: Prof. Candis Callison, UBC School of Journalism
Venue: Green College, UBC
Date: Oct. 7th, 2010
Filming and Editing: Fabiola Carletti, Journalism grad student and Green College Resident

Eco expert Candis Callison from MIT to lecture at Green College

Candis Callison. Picture from the UBC School of Journalism.

My thesis supervisor is really smart. No, like, really smart.
Not to mention down-to-earth, incisive and articulate.

Her name is Candis Callison and on Oct. 7th she’s going to make Green College a little more green-minded with her  lecture: “Spinning climate change, vernaculars and emergent forms of life.”

About the lecture

When: Thursday, October 7, 2010 5-6:30 pm
Where: Green College Coach House

Abstract: It has often been asserted as a democratic and scientific ideal that the discovery of objective facts and the dissemination of such information will drive action. But the line between what Bruno Latour calls matters of fact and matters of concern is anything but straightforward, and more often than not includes traversing not only the vagaries of media channels for mass communication, but also a diversity of meaning-making, ethics, and morality.

This talk will present research on such processes, providing insight into how Americans in various social and professional groups are translating, transforming, and re-articulating climate change for diverse constituents and wider publics.

About the speaker

Candis is graduate of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the MIT, where she earned her Master of Science. She’s currently working on her Ph.D. in MIT’s Science, Technology, and Society program.

As a journalist, she has worked for a variety of media outlets, including the CBC, CTV, and the APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network).

In addition to her Ph.D. work, Candis lectures at the UBC School of Journalism and is raising two young daughters with her partner in Vancouver.

An invitation!

If you’re in the Vancouver area, and you’re curious about Green College–an interdisciplinary  graduate residence and frequent lecture venue–there’s no better time to visit than for Candis’ upcoming talk. Come for the love of learning and stay for the deliciousness of dinner. UBC students ($15) and members of the general public ($18) can purchase a three-course dinner ticket in advance or pay an extra toonie to simply walk in and join us on the day of the event.

We hope to see you soon!

The Green College dining hall in Graham House

Quest toward a new kind of university

"Squamish Chief" by Flickr user BigA888

I’m not going to lie, I originally signed up for an autumn weekend in Squamish, B.C. because, well … have you ever seen  pictures of Squamish, B.C.? It’s I-must-be-hallucinating stunning out there.

But scenery aside, the real point is that a small group of Green College residents (myself included) will venture up to Squamish on October 1st to meet Quest University‘s first graduating class.

In case your eyebrow just shot up, no worries, I had never heard of Quest University before today. More importantly, I’d never heard of a Canadian post-secondary school like Quest either.

Turns out it’s Canada’s very first independent, not-for-profit, nonsectarian university of the liberal arts and sciences.

It offers only one degree, a Bachelors of Arts and Sciences, and has been specifically designed to challenge the mass model (or diploma factory) style that many universities employ. (And the only kind I’ve ever attended, by the by.)

Quest undergrad students have had 20 person classes for their entire post-secondary career. I didn’t have classes that small in my fourth year seminars at York University. They also focus on one topic area at a time instead of balancing five different courses every semester.

We’re going to talk to Quest students about “interdisciplinary pathways inside and outside the academy,” as Green College principal Mark Vessey so eloquently put it. We’re also going to eat, hike and hang with them. I kind of wonder what the catch is, seriously.

“Quest U is a radical experiment in post-secondary education, not without affinities with Green College,” Vessey explained in an email invite. It was founded in 2002 by former University of British Columbia president Dr. David Strangway, who was also one of the founders of Green College.

As a member of the mass-educated crew, I’m excited to spend some time with students who have never made “just a number” jokes or devoted expletive-laden Facebook groups to hating their school.

Are they mountain-top flower children or trail-blazing academics? Stay tuned…

Check out the comments below for a bit of nuance!

Smarter Beach Books: a journalist’s shortlist

Photo by Gibson Claire McGuire Regester on Flickr

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.  ~Oscar Wilde

When a journalist as smart as Kathryn Gretsinger lets you in on her summer reading short list, you pay attention.

As fellow student Jodie Martinson once said, Kathryn is a “professional human being.” She is  fantastic at what she does — both as a UBC professor and a CBC journalist — and, true to form, she recently took the time to share the source of some of her smarts with her students.

Here are her fifteen suggested  summer reads.

  1. The New Journalist – Paul Benedetti, Tim Currie, Kim Kierans
  2. The News about the News – Downey and Kaiser
  3. A Little History of the World – E.M. Gombrich
  4. The Chaos Scenario – Bob Garfield
  5. We the Media – Dan Gillmor
  6. Sound Reporting – Jonathan Kern
  7. The Elements of Journalism – Kovach and Rosenstiel
  8. Asking Questions – Paul McLaughlin (Hey! This is a former prof of mine. I can vouch for this one!)
  9. Convergent Journalism – Quinn and Flak
  10. REPORTING:  Writings from the New Yorker – David Remnick
  11. Here Comes Everybody – Clay Shirky
  12. The  Elements of Style – Strunk and White
  13. On Writing Well – William Zinsser
  14. What’s happening to News: The information explosion and the crisis in journalism – Jack Fuller
  15. A History of Canadian Journalism – William Craick